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ON FILM: Latest Indiana fails in quest for film gold

By PHILIP MARTIN

This article was published May 30, 2008 at 2:19 a.m.

mutt-shia-labeouf-from-left-indiana-harrison-ford-and-marion-karen-allen-discuss-possible-outcomes-before-a-drive-into-dangerous-territory-in-indiana-jones-and-the-kingdom-of-the-crystal-skull

Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, from left), Indiana (Harrison Ford) and Marion (Karen Allen) discuss possible outcomes before a drive into dangerous territory in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

— I went to a movie last week because a trusted friend, Danny-Joe Crofford, endorsed it. He called me after he saw it and he was enthusiastic. The movie was better than he expected. He wasn't disappointed.

For me, that changed things. I had planned to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sometime.But probably not on the opening weekend. I wasn't interested in the movie beyond a certain professional curiosity - I've always been a Harrison Ford blockbuster agnostic and I figured the latest installment would feature the standard state-of-the-art special effects (cheesed up to fit the nostalgia-infused Indiana Jones style) and dry performances verging on purposefully bad. I figured Steven Spielberg and George Lucas knew what they were doing, but that Iwasn't in on this particular joke.

I would observe Crystal Skull as a cultural phenomenon. I didn't feel especially compelled to have an opinion on it.

But then Crofford called me. And got me all psyched up. And when I actually watched it - well, I guess I didn't hate it. It didn't offend me. It just sort of turned out to be lifeless. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull bored me to the point that I really wanted to get up and leave the theater. (But I don't generally walk out on movies.Especially not if I plan to write about them.)

It felt to me like nobody's heart was really into it. While it was good to see Karen Allen again, I'm still not convinced Shia LaBeouf is a real movie star or that Ford isn't the luckiest man on the face of the earth. But I'm not stirred enough to even want to argue about it. Some critics really liked it - it has a 79 percent approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site (www.rottentomatoes. com).

It was a curious feeling, and I assume that a lot of my reaction to the movie had to do with my expectations for it - raised considerably by my friend's reaction to it. I don't think I would have liked the movie any better if I hadn't had the benefit of Crofford's opinion beforehand, I just wouldn't have been so surprised at the movie's failure to move me.

One of the problems I have with the entire Indiana Jones series is purely generational. I am not quite old enough to have experienced firsthand the movie serials - Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, Zorro - that inspired Lucas and Spielberg to create the Indiana Jones character. Since I'm more a product of '70s filmmaking and receive those original serials as camp, all the Indiana Jones films feel redundant to me - they're essential comedies that rely on the audience's familiarity with the tropes and conventions of the old "To be continued ..." adventures.

Lucas (born in 1944) and Spielberg (1946) could be boyhood fans of those serials, produced in the 1930s and '40s, because they hung around in theaters through the 1960s. I have a vague memory of watching serials - and Three Stooges shorts - before Saturday matinees as achild, but they weren't important to me and my friends.

I can understand what they're doing, but having an academic appreciation of those serials isn't the same as having loved them as a kid. Indiana Jones is, at least in part, a reaction to the '70s and the rise of movie anti-heroes - it's a cinematic correspondent to the election of Ronald Reagan. Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in 1981, five months after Reagan took office. It was morning in America. The malaise was lifting.

I was in law school then and not particularly interested in that kind of retro worship. (I'm probably more susceptible to the charms of a movie like Raiders today.) I remember thinking it odd that some of my friends were so into the movie (one guy I knew used to listen to the John Williams soundtrack through headphones while studying). It seemed to me to be hokey, almost childish. While I enjoyed it on a certain level, it wasn'tparticularly memorable. I have clearer memories of seeing Stripes and An American Werewolf in London.

On the other hand, if I'd first seen Raiders when I was 10 or 12 rather than when I was in my 20s, I'd no doubt feel differently about the first film and its successors. And if I was 12 years old today I'd probably have really loved Transformers. Because no matter who you are, popular culture hits (or will hit) its zenith in the summer of your 12th year.

But as for this Indy, I doubt many people will be talking about it after this weekend. Everything is front-loaded now, the movies make their money in the first couple of weekends. After that, nobody cares.

I was ahead of the game. I didn't care to begin with.

All you people who've felt misled by a review: I know how you feel.

E-mail:

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

MovieStyle, Pages 39, 44 on 05/30/2008

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